Wednesday, July 26, 2006

LADY IN THE WATER: Shyam's Quest for his Muse

LADY IN THE WATER (thriller)
Cast: Paul Giamati, Bryce Dallas Howard, Bob Balaban, Jeffrey Wright & M. Night Shyamalan
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)
Bryce Dallas Howard as the 'narf'
PREAMBLE: Somewhere in this Shyamalan tale, a film critic named Mr Farber (Bob Balaban) laments that there is no originality in the movies anymore – “only clichés and belaboured expositions”. But of course, having written in Balaban’s character (presumably to pre-empt negative reviews of this movie), surely Shyamalan is not about to give us ‘cliched’ and recycled stuff in his Lady In The Water? Good Heavens, no, but he sorely wants us to believe in him – both as a storyteller and as a Messiah who would ‘sacrifice himself to save the world’.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? Indeed, we too want to believe in the ‘bedtime story’ that Shyamalan has concocted – that a ‘narf’ named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard, pictured) has come from her Blue World, risking attacks by grassy wolf-like creatures called Scrunts, to inspire a ‘Chosen One’ and then hurry back to her own world. Like every character in the movie who seems to believe in Story’s story unquestionably, we too want to go along with the Shyamalan flow.
However, instead of taking us to the customary Shyamalan twist at the end (like in his Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs), we are offered ridiculous side-tracks to nowhere, and very little in terms of mystery or discovery. This is probably the first Shyamalan movie that tells the audience the whole story in the prologue…
Yes, animated cave-drawing figures in the opening credits explain that the Blue World, having been separated from the Human World, is trying to re-establish contact and to make us ‘listen’. The nymphs send their children (or narfs) to contact certain individuals to provide them with The Muse before returning home via ‘Air Eatlon’ (a Great Eagle, actually). One of these ‘narfs’ is Story who is discovered and rescued by Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamati), the caretaker of a suburban tenement building called The Cove.

HIGHLIGHTS: Now, the ‘wonder card’ is played. At first, Cleveland believes that he is The Chosen One and takes it upon himself to help facilitate Story’s return to her world. However, when he discovers that he is not the One, he seeks the help of his tenants, like Korean student Choi Young-soon (Cindy Cheung) and her mother; a writer (Shyamalan) and his sister (Sarita Choudhury) and the dour Mr Dury (Jeffrey Wright), to take part in the big send-off.

LOWLIGHTS: We don’t know how Cleveland had explained the situation to the other tenants, but none questioned his ‘relationship’ with the almost-naked mermaid-like girl he hides in his apartment, or even thought of calling the police. They just bought the whole story, including the Scrunts and Torturic (monkey-like characters who are the nemesis of the Scrunts) bits.

THE PLAYERS: Giamati is solid here as a battered soul with a tragic past, while the other members of the cast get by with minimal character development. Dallas Howard, as the title character who spends most of the time in the shower, could have been more of an ‘eye-candy’ but the camera mostly captures her legs (in skin-coloured bodysuit, presumably for that PG rating).
This is the first time Shyamalan has given himself a co-starring role (instead of walk-on cameos) and that turns out to be more of a distraction than characterisation. We are all given to believe that it is Shyamalan that the ‘narf’ has come to inspire – and that it is his ego that needs massaging.

THE LOWDOWN: Who knows, after reading the reviews for this movie, he would surely need the ego massage. Believe me.


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